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11/22/63

This is a long book, over 30 hours, but worth every minute. It's the story of Jake Epping. His friend Al has found a time portal to September 9th, 1958. Al has been using it to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. But now Al is dying. He shows the portal to Jake and convinces him to take over the project. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. The portal has rules. First, while everyone else is whatever age they were in 1958, Jake is still aging normally. Second, the past doesn't want to be changed. The bigger the change, the bigger the resistance to change. Third, every trip through the portal erases any changes made during previous trips. Jake has to start from scratch each time he enters the portal.

Stephen King did a great job researching Lee Harvey Oswald. Jake has to be sure he's got the right man.And then there's Sadie.

Check out 11/22/63 (2011) today. You can read or listen to the book via Overdrive.


Apeirogon

Two men, one Palestinian and one Israeli. Two young daughters lost to the violence which is sadly prevalent in their part of the world. These two men from opposite sides of the conflict manage to come together and forge a friendship in their common hope for peace.

Colum McCann writes in an interesting format, offering up what at first might seem random facts or short anecdotes. It did take me a few pages to get into it, but it was definitely worth it to see how everything comes together, how the facts and fiction intertwine to create a deeply moving narrative. Not only was this beautifully written, it was also very educational, giving me insights into an ongoing conflict and a way of life so very different to mine.

Apeirogon (2020) is longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Read the book on Overdrive



The Vanishing Half

Desiree, one of the lost twins of Mallard, Louisiana, has returned home with her "black as tar" daughter Jude. She is returning to a town founded as a place for people who "would never be accepted as white, but refused to be treated as Negroes." The founder hoped to create a "more perfect Negro" with each "generation lighter than the one before."

In 1954, 16-year-old twins Stella and Desiree Vignes ran away from home. Desiree later works as an FBI fingerprint examiner in Washington D.C., and Stella leaves her sister to find her own way in the world. She moves to California, marries a white man, has a daughter, and passes for white. Her family has no idea of Stella's secret past.

As the story moves from the 1950s into the 90s, author Brit Bennett examines sisterhood and the idea of "a sister as a kind of alternate self."The twins share the trauma of seeing their father lynched by white men. The author explores how that kind of inherited trauma might affect the next generation who have no idea what they have inherited. Both sisters have daughters that meet by chance, not knowing that they are related or any idea of their mothers' shared past.

I found this novel so interesting on many levels: the idea that a town places importance on skin tones, the idea of passing, and the dichotomy of what life would be like staying in the South as opposed to living in the North. In The Vanishing Half (2020), we see two lives and two dramatically different paths. A compelling story of family, identity, and race.

Check out the ebook or audiobook of The Vanishing Half on Overdrive today. For more own voices stories, browse our list of Black Voices: Historical Fiction.



How Much of These Hills Is Gold

It's hard to sum up this book in a few words: it's historical fiction, a western adventure, immigrant voices, coming of age, and so much more. How Much of These Hills Is Gold (2020) centers around Lucy and Sam, two recently orphaned Chinese-American children on the run from a Californian mining town with a stolen horse. They journey through the harsh landscape in search of a place to call home, but the siblings find it difficult to agree on anything, let alone their destination.

C Pam Zhang adds Chinese myths and traditions to the story and expertly paints readers a picture of the Wild West in its dark and gritty glory. How Much of These Hills Is Gold gives us a fictionalized history of the Gold Rush era from an immigrant perspective and will have you pondering questions about home, belonging, and identity.

Read the ebook via Overdrive today.


The Words I Never Wrote

The novel opens in present day New York City when photographer Juno Lambert purchases a 1931 typewriter once owned by journalist Cordelia Capel. She discovers an incomplete manuscript, spurring Juno to investigate Cordelia's life.

The story then switches to the 1930s, where English sisters Cordelia and Irene end up on different paths and different sides of WWII. Irene moves to Berlin after marrying a German man; her husband rubs shoulders with high-ranking Nazi officials, putting her in treacherous situations. Cordelia ends up in Paris working for a newspaper. The sisters correspond with letters, but have a falling out after mistruths lead to complications.

The Words I Never Wrote (2019) by Jane Thynne is an intricate story that builds momentum as more secrets are revealed. Juno seeks to complete the story and discover what happened so many years ago.

If you enjoy reading novels set during WWII, check out our book lists.



Above the Bay of Angels

In 1896, after her family has fallen on hard times, Isabella goes into service as a maid. When an opportunity arises to interview for a cook position at Buckingham Palace, Isabella jumps at the chance, even though it's under false pretenses. After getting the job, Isabella finds that she has a gift for cooking and becomes a trusted member of Queen Victoria's household. However, the memory of her privileged upbringing and the fear of losing her job are never far from her mind. When love possibly comes her way, will Isabella choose a career over being a wife?

Above the Bay of Angels (2020) is another delightful read from author Rhys Bowen with lots of descriptions of what life was like in the royal household.



Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Here is a ghost story unlike any you've read before... in 1941, Frankie and her siblings have been left by their widowed father to live in a Chicago orphanage. They are left trying to make a way for themselves amidst poverty and injustice in a world left crumbled by the Great Depression and now on fire with war.

We follow Frankie's coming-of-age story through the eyes of a girl who died in 1918, whose spirit is left lingering the streets of Chicago, unsure how to move on. Glimpses of her past are pieced together as she remembers what happened to her and realizes that coming to terms with the truth is the only way to be set free.

Laura Ruby has weaved together a haunting and heartwarming blend of historical fantasy and mystery, full of rich characters whose stories reveal profound truths about the vast possibilities of human nature. Check out Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (2019) today.

Read the ebook on Overdrive or listen to the audiobook on Hoopla.



The German Girl

I highly recommend The German Girl (2016). It is the fascinating story of two very different girls growing up in different times. In 1939, Hannah Rosenthal is wealthy and originally from Berlin. In 2014, Anna is from New York.

Hannah's story features her and her parents' escape from Germany before the war begins. She is not of "pure" German blood and they escape by securing passage on a luxury transatlantic ocean liner, called the St. Louis. Her family plans to make a new life for themselves in Havana, Cuba.

Anna receives a birthday gift from a mysterious unknown relative, her Great Aunt Hannah, in Cuba. So Anna and her mother travel to Cuba to meet this relative and find out the truth of her past.

Author Armando Lucas Correa weaves the two stories together so well that I could not put the book down. It is inspired by the true story of the passengers of the St. Louis and what became of them during the Holocaust. (Spoiler alert: read the article from the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum—but not if you want to be surprised by the book).

The German Girl is available to read or listen to via Overdrive. Check it out today. Visit our website for a list of World War II Novels.



Code Name Hélène

In Ariel Lawhon's latest gripping historical novel, she delves into the life of socialite spy Nancy Wake. Code Name Hélène (2020) is richly detailed. The chapters alternate between her early life and her life as an agent.

This New Zealand native left home at 16. She moved to Europe and worked as a journalist. Nancy eventually married a Frenchman. When France falls to Germany during World War II, she starts working for the Resistance. She is quite a dynamic leader with good instincts and quick reactions. I was truly disappointed when this ended.

Visit Overdrive to read the ebook or listen to the audiobook of Code Name Hélène. Learn more about the real-life heroism of Nancy Wake by reading this History.com article. For more novels featuring women in the resistance, check out our book list.



Series Spotlight: Winternight

If you grew up on fairy tales and want to rediscover that magic as an adult, then the Winternight trilogy (start with The Bear and the Nightingale, 2017) is for you. Katherine Arden brings to life Russian folklore and spirits you away to the forests of medieval Russia in this lyrical tale.

Vasya is born into a time when the old beliefs are being threatened by the introduction of modern religion, but she is one of the few who can still see and talk to the household and forest spirits. Struggling to keep the old traditions alive to protect her family, Vasya is drawn into an age-old battle between the frost-king and his brother. The action continues from the frozen forests to the capital, Moscow, and through the fantastical Midnight Lands, home to the mythical witch Baba Yaga.

Beautifully written with a strong female lead and a captivating portrayal of 14th century Russia, the Winternight trilogy (book 2: The Girl in the Tower, 2018 and book 3: The Winter of the Witch, 2019) interweaves historical moments with old world fantasy to create a wonderful epic fairy tale. This trilogy would appeal to readers of Neil Gaiman and Kiersten White.


The Poppy Wife

A hauntingly beautiful book dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. Set in 1921 with flashbacks to the war years, The Poppy Wife follows the story of war widow, Edie and her brother-in-law Harry, the only surviving brother of three. Edie's husband, Francis, was an avid photographer during the war, faithfully documenting his wartime experience. But when Edie is sent a photo of him with no note attached, 3 years after he was reported missing in action, she latches on to the possibility that he may still be alive somewhere in France and recruits his brother Harry to help look for any sign of him.

Harry's job is as a photographer, taking photos of graves or places of import for bereaved families who are in need of closure. It takes him back to all the places he was stationed throughout the war, villages that have been wiped out or are struggling to rebuild, locals attempting to come to terms with all their loss, and widows searching for any information about their lost husbands. The Poppy Wife (2019) delivers vivid imagery and raw emotion as it follows both Edie and Harry's travels across France.

Caroline Scott is an historian specializing in WWI and The Poppy Wife is an expertly rendered portrayal of the postwar period. Her writing is beautifully atmospheric and the characters are well-drawn, evoking strong emotions.


A Single Thread

In 1932 England, Violet is considered a surplus woman, a 38-year-old doomed to spinsterhood after the Great War. She doesn't accept her fate and tries to live her life despite her mother's constant harping. She leaves home and moves to Winchester to work as a typist.

While attending church services, Violet discovers a group of women who embroider seat cushions and kneelers. She joins this group of broderers, learning the stitches and the meaning behind the designs. She meets Arthur, who rings bells at the cathedral.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (2019) features a strong female character with an unapologetic approach to life. She defies convention and charts her own course. While there is a feeling of despondency, the reader learns that not all women accepted their fate. Violet builds a meaningful life. Chevalier provides a great sense of place with her setting in a small English village. 

The Dearly Beloved

In the 1950s, we meet four characters whose lives will be intertwined for the next 50 years. Charles is from a wealthy Boston family and the son of a Harvard professor. Lily's parents are killed when she is a teenager and their absence leaves a void inside her for the rest of her life. James grows up poor in Chicago, the son of an alcoholic. Nan is the daughter of a southern minister, and sees firsthand the inner workings of being part of a family where faith and helping others is an integral part of life.

When Charles and James decide to take jobs as the co-pastors of the Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village, the men, along with their wives, Lily and Nan, must live their lives amid the turmoil of the 1960s. They find their beliefs challenged by their circumstances and the other individuals in the quartet. In The Dearly Beloved (2019) by Cara Wall, the reader is immersed in the four characters' lives as revealed through moving, emotional writing.

Meet Me in Monaco

The novel begins with Grace Kelly in Cannes, being pursued by James, a British photographer. She ducks into a perfume boutique where Sophie gives her refuge. Over the next 30 years, James and Sophie form a friendship and mutual admiration, though life sometimes pulls them in opposite directions. Meanwhile, Grace meets and becomes engaged to Prince Rainier, returning to Monaco for the wedding. Grace has never forgotten Sophie and orders the perfume for her wedding from the boutique. The publicity causes business to pick up.

In Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly's Royal Wedding (2019), Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb have written an amusing and delightful novel with a light romance amidst the wedding of the century. 

The Water Dancer

It's impossible to do justice to The Water Dancer (2019) in a book review. The story is powerful and haunting and the characters are expertly and thoughtfully portrayed throughout. The time period and settings are drawn so vividly that I felt I was living the horrors of slavery on a Virginia plantation and experiencing the terrifying dangers of the flight to freedom. Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing is brilliantly inspiring and lyrical.

I couldn't help but become emotionally invested in the life of the main character, Hiram Walker, a highly intelligent young slave whose white father is the owner of the plantation, and whose mother was a slave who was sold away when Hiram was 9 years old.

I typically like fast-paced novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book with its slow, deliberate pacing and elegant, detailed descriptions along the way. Magical realism is another element that Coates uses as an intriguing aspect of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman is a fascinating character as well. I was motivated to learn more about her life after reading this book. I highly recommend this incredible heartbreaking, yet hopeful novel!